May 7th: A very out Willie Ballgame is called safe by second base umpire Gerry Davis, prolonging a Mariner rally in New York.
Ever since the Mike Reilly disaster, we'd been waiting for something like this. Something so obvious, something so comical, something so egregiously bad in our favor that we could once again come to believe that blown calls even out over time, instead of bitterly assuming that Major League umpires all share a Mariner grudge. I don't mean calling a ball a strike, or saying that a batter did or didn't go around; we needed something bigger than that. We needed a colossal slip-up. It came on May 7th.
That evening, the Yankees were hanging on to a narrow one-run lead against the Mariners in the final game of a four-game series. In danger of dropping back below .500, the M's were unable to muster any kind of sustained rally against the unmistakably horrible Matt DeSalvo, and so they found themselves behind 2-1 entering the top of the eighth. Miguel Batista had bent but not broken, keeping his team in the game, but the lineup was running out of chances, and things weren't about to get any easier now that New York was calling upon its bullpen of legitimate ML-level power arms. If the M's wanted to win this game, they'd have to do it against someone with talent, rather than the lifeless preppy blow-up doll that'd started the night.
Kyle Farnsworth got a quick two outs, leaving it up to Jose Vidro to keep the inning alive. Which he did, thanks to a swinging bunt that strayed just far enough from the mound to enable Mike Goff to place Vidro in a wheelbarrow and roll him to first. In came Willie to pinch-run, and that's when the fun started. He took off for second on a 1-0 pitch to Kenji Johjima, and when Posada threw down, Cano applied the tag in what seemed like plenty of time. Davis called him safe, though, and the inning kept going. A questionable call, but no one really thought much of it until they showed a replay. What follows is a transcript of the YES Network broadcast team's reaction to the clip:
Some Guy: Boy he got a good jump, you see Farnsworth's leg kick...he's looking in, I don't know if that was a straight steal...1-0 count...
Kay: Oh he's out.
Some Guy: Oh he is out.
Kay: I mean he's out by plenty. That's a terrible call by Gerry Davis.
Kay: Cano did not argue, but he was out by plenty. That wasn't even close. The tag is there, he's not even near the bag.
The replay made it clear - Willie was out, and lucky to still be on the bases. And everything was just compounded when Kenji dropped an opposite-field pop-up in front of Bobby Abreu to tie the game. Thanks in large part to Gerry Davis, we were all knotted up, and Yankee Stadium was incensed. This, this was a good feeling.
The Davis gaffe wasn't quite on the level of Reilly's; the Win Expectancy swing of Reilly's call made four times the difference of Davis'. But while the numbers didn't work out to be exactly even, Willie's steal and the resulting base hit provided a bit of closure for a saga that threatened to go on for years. That it took place in New York was a nice touch. So thank you, Gerry Davis, for showing us what it feels like to get away with something. For too long we'd been on the opposite side of the ledger.
And the circle of life endures.